This week's guide contains:
YES, PLEASE: Lake Inferior; Steep Canyon Rangers, Thompson Brothers Band; Johnny Cash B-Day Celebration; Tony Low Band, Stratocruiser, The Stars Explode
VS.: A.C. Newman vs. The Mountain Goats
VS.: Cut Copy vs. Titus Andronicus
INTRODUCING: Jimmy Brown
03.19 LAKE INFERIOR @ LOCAL 506
This show, a benefit for UNC's chapter of Relay For Life, and dubbed oh-so-cleverly "Cancer Sucks," keeps its marquee act securely campus-based, enlisting Vinyl Records-signees Lake Inferior to cap the show with glowing indie pop that elicits thoughts of Brian Eno's pop production. Stark but warm, dynamic but restrained, Lake Inferior is already a fully functional unit, but still radiates the promise of even better things to come. Don't consider this a students-only affair, though. Townie bands I Was Totally Destroying It and Pink Flag round out the musical troika. Also of note: This is a cancer benefit, so naturally, it's a no-smoking show. $7/ 9 p.m. —Bryan Reed
03.20 STEEP CANYON RANGERS, THOMPSON BROS. BAND @ THE POUR HOUSE
The Steep Canyon Rangers does everything just right. Willing to step back and provide support, each member of the quintet shines with respective virtuosity. Fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar and bass fit together as seamlessly as the vocal harmonies that helped win the group the International Bluegrass Music Association's Emerging Artist of the Year Award in 2006. The Thompson Brothers Band kicks off the evening's show. Playing together in the bluegrass outfit Old Habits, the duo of Craig and Bennett Thompson twang out folk pop tunes with heavy country flavor. Good, clean bluegrass can serve as the warm sunlight thawing off the last bits of winter. It shines tonight. $10-12/ 10 p.m. —Andrew Ritchey
03.21 JOHNNY CASH B-DAY CELEBRATION @ THE PINHOOK
The Pinhook Web site has this one billed as a "Johnny Cash Birthday Celebration," which shows just how huge an imprint the Man in Black left on the music world—so huge, in fact, that his birthday deserves an entire month of celebration. (He actually entered the world Feb. 26, perhaps announcing "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash" in bass-baritone soon after arrival.) Reason for assembling aside, this is a first-rate collection of talented locals who'll come bearing rock, blues, twang and pop, as well as—one would hope—a Johnny Cash song or two as belated birthday gifts. Gambling the Muse, Tender Fruit, Bull City and The Pneurotics split the bill. $5 suggested donation/ 10 p.m. —Rick Cornell
03.21 TONY LOW BAND (EARLY), STRATOCRUISER, THE STARS EXPLODE (LATE) @ THE CAVE
This two-parter flares like a condensed version of Sparklefest, the late gathering overseen by local bandleader Mike Nicholson that celebrated melodic rock, cranked-up pop and other guitar-happy, hook-appreciating pursuits. As a member of the pysch-popping Cheepskates and the even crunchier Static 13, Tony Low majored in crafting melodies and cranking it up. Led by former Gladhand and all-around nice guy Doug Edmunds, The Stars Explode is all about happy guitars and even happier hooks. And the arena-ready sound of Nicholson's Stratocruiser will push out The Cave's walls a couple of feet on all sides as Clay Howard's big voice knocks down a stalactite or three. Call it expansion rock. 7:30 p.m., 10:00 p.m. —Rick Cornell
THURSDAY, MARCH 19
From: Brooklyn by way of the Great White North
Claim to fame: Being a guiding force behind the New Pornographers
It's a classic showdown, like McCartney versus Lennon. Carl Newman aligns with the former, penning lively, hook-lined confections, rich in backing harmonies and rousing choruses. Replete with winning energy and a tunefulness more infectious than a class of runny-nosed kindergartners, Newman's music corners you, demanding head-nodding/ foot-tapping acknowledgement. His second album, Get Guilty, isn't as bracing as his understated 2004 solo debut, Slow Wonder—preferring a sonorous sweep in keeping with recent New Pornographers albums. Both are consistently endearing. Lyrics aren't his strength, per se. Like Macca, they flow across the music as easily as water from a faucet, but don't necessarily add up to much. At CAT'S CRADLE with The Broken West. $12-$14/ 9:15 p.m.
THE MOUNTAIN GOATS
From: Durham by-way-of Chino, Calif., or "where the asphalt sprouts"
Claim to fame: Early lo-fi boombox recordings and evocative lyrics
The Mountain Goats auteur John Darnielle could've been a novelist, as keen as he is with language. Hell, he did release his first book last year. His sometimes humorous takes on society's dissolute and dispossessed never fail to strike a human chord. Whether comparing laugh-lines to geographical relief maps or love to a contentious border ("trucks loaded down with weapons crossing over every night"), Darnielle's one of the few whose lyrics hold up as poetry. Were that his only weapon, Newman might out-finesse Darnielle, but, since beginning a musical partnership with producer/opener John Vanderslice, his sonic repertoire and sophistication's increased markedly. He won't out-hook Newman, but he can stay even and bide his time, waiting to floor him with a literary haymaker. Solo, at DUKE COFFEEHOUSE with John Vanderslice. $12-$15/ 9:30 p.m. —Chris Parker
THURSDAY, MARCH 24
From: Melbourne, Australia
Claim to fame: Stretching French house's sonic breadth and, concomitantly, its audience
San Diego's Internet-and-tape buzz band Wavves was slated to play Nightlight tonight, making for an excellent unhinged rock fracas back in Chapel Hill. Wavves canceled the show (much like the band canceled its record deal with De Stijl when Fat Possum came calling, one supposes). Either way, Carrboro offers a sedate, ornate and pulsing option to Titus Andronicus' menace: Australia's Cut Copy sold CAT'S CRADLE out well in advance of this U.S. visit. They did it by collaborating with DFA's Tim Goldsworthy on last year's In Ghost Colours, an album that turns its makers' pedigree into a filigree, meaning that Cut Copy's techno background becomes the elegant ice over the cool core of its beat-driven pop songs. In Ghost Colours makes new fans dance without making the old fans feel like they've given up on an old favorite. Cut Copy forewent this year's SXSW panic, arcing through the top of the country to arrive in Carrboro just as the SXSW troopers roll through. You'll either need to beg yourself into this corner of the ring at 9:30 p.m. or go join the scrappy, exuberant underdogs back at Local 506. —Grayson Currin
From: Glen Rock, N.J.
Claim to fame: From Brueghel and Shakespeare to the Terrordome and "Would You Rather," a joyous wealth of cultural references
First thing's first: The snarled-and-spit anthems of Titus Andronicus sport hooks as sharp as the best your summer tackle box can offer. Check the songs "Fear and Loathing in Mahweh, N.J." and "Titus Andronicus" for the evidence. Thing is, smeared by a quarter-dozen electric guitars and the unhinged vocal approach of frontman Patrick Stickles, you might miss 'em. Same goes for the lyrics of Stickles, who turned last year's Airing of Grievances into a literate soapbox for a teenage malcontent staring at the brink of adulthood: "The blood drive came to Glen Rock High in a white bus with red letters on the side and a long shiny needle/ they brought to suck me dry like missionary mosquitoes," he sang on "Albert Camus." Still, give this knock-out-punch of a band your night, and you'll leave with a new charge for ferocity. With potential SXSW darlings Here We Go Magic at LOCAL 506. $8/ 9:30 p.m.
03.19 JIMMY BROWN @ THE CAVE
With a vibe that mingles Irish and folk and soul, placing Jimmy Brown near Van Morrison is easy. Brown's songs, though, tend to be more cohesive, and his vocals are more gentle—delicate at times. "I don't mind being compared to Van Morrison, not at all," says Brown. "He's about one of the most transcendent, just brilliant, artists ever."
Through a job flipping houses in the States, Brown made his way from Belfast, Northern Ireland, to Hickory, N.C. There he found poet and fellow Belfast native Adrian Rice in a bar: "Two Irish guys meet in a bar—sounds like the start of a joke—but that's where we met." Quick friends, the two finally collaborated on lyrics two years later. Taking part in the strong tradition of Irish poets, the two write "songs about people going out to sea in the middle of the night and tying themselves to a mast in the storm ... because there's enough of those easygoing love songs in the air."
While songs may tend toward the ethereal, they stay grounded. "The only good poetry is just a fundamental accurate statement, and that's what we're trying to achieve. So in a sense, poetical doesn't necessarily mean it's complicated." The singer-songwriter will bring his no-nonsense approach to an upcoming live album, which will be recorded in his house. He's invited friends and fans to bring along instruments to jam when the spirit moves. "I want it to be totally organic." 7:30 p.m. —Andrew Ritchey